Some Statistics

Who doesn’t love chubby babies? However, when these babies grow into overweight kids, there is a need to worry. Going by the latest reports India has 14.4 million overweight children. In the United States, one in three children is obese while in Australia one in four children is either obese or overweight. Obesity in young children is a significant health hazard and it is defined as 25 percent and more body fat for males and 30 percent and more for females. It places young children at increased risk of developing chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.  Also, such kids are more prone to develop stress, sadness, and low self-esteem

Certainly, there is a need to worry and you need to figure out what’s making children obese. The chief culprit is the lifestyle. The genes also speak loud and clear, but if parents work on it, the probability of obesity decreases in offspring. Also, premature babies are more vulnerable to becoming obese in later years.

  1.       Role of genes in childhood obesity

Obesity runs in families.  Since hunter-gatherer times, our genetic makeup allows us to keep a buffer of calories in fat storage. These extra calories help us survive situations of food scarcity. However, with changing times food is available, famines have disappeared (for most of us) and exercise is rare, but our genetic design continues to stay the same.

Therefore, the size of your parent’s waist will determine to a great extent your waist size. Studies have found if both the parents are obese, there are 80 percent chances for a child to be obese. If one of the parents is obese the probability of obesity in the child goes down to 40 percent. Where both the parents are lean there is only 14 percent chance of the child becoming obese.  

However, genes are not solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. Dr. Scott Kahan, the Director of National Center for Weight and Wellness says,  “Genes load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger.” Ultimately the trigger is your environment consisting of your lifestyle and diet.

  1.      Is TV making children obese?

Unfortunately yes. Research studies in recent times have found a strong link between watching TV for long hours and overweight children. Children who watch TV for long hours are couch potatoes. Moreover, TV stealthily introduces young children to unhealthy snacking behaviors because 50 percent advertisements in the kids’ show are around unhealthy snacks.

TV in the bedroom is a strict NO. Watching TV in the bedroom by children as young as seven encourages them to unhealthy snacking behaviors, junk food advertisements and is likely to make them overweight. Unfortunately, as our screens become flatter our children are becoming fatter because they don’t go out and play in the playgrounds.

  1.      Longer work hours

You may not have suspected it but long work hours is making your child obese. If both parents work, at times cooking a healthy meal poses a challenge and parents switch to convenient takeaways and eat-out to reduce their workload. Moreover, portion sizes at fast food restaurants have increased in the last couple of years. High in calories and low in nutrients, such meals set the ground for obese children.

  1.  Wrong eating habits in children

Eating high calorie foods and not spending those calories will translate into weight gain.  The usual food suspects contributing to weight gain are sugary drinks, like soda, juices, calorie-dense snacks, chips, and candies. Such foods increase your child’s risk of insulin resistance, a counter-intuitive situation where more of insulin floating in the bloodstream makes the muscles insensitive to it. Studies have found hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance in prepubertal obese children.

  1.       Less sleep

Sleep has become scarce for both adults and children. While adults have their own agenda for disregarding sleep the lives of children is not simpler either. Mobile phones, video games, TV in the bedroom act as potent disruptions in maintaining sleep hygiene. Not only sleep-deprived kids are crankier, they are at increased risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Just a week of sleep deprivation can cause significant alterations in glucose tolerance, thereby making you insensitive to the glucose in the bloodstream, which will morph into diabetes.

  1. Gestational diabetes during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your placenta secretes certain hormones which can make your blood sugar level rise. The pancreas responds to this condition by releasing more insulin than normal to absorb the extra sugar floating in the blood.  For most women, this is enough but women who are unable to release extra insulin to control the blood glucose develop gestational diabetes. The high level of blood sugar will make the baby store that extra sugar as fat which can make them grow larger than normal. Such babies are at increased risk of becoming obese adults.

  1. Premature cesarean babies may become obese

If you had a cesarean delivery and the baby was born two weeks prior to the due date, there is a 15 percent more likely that such a child will become obese in later years. According to a study published in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology preterm cesarean babies are more prone to problems with metabolism and hormones as well as the endocrine system that can lead to diabetes and a host of other illnesses. This is mainly because children delivered by c-section are not exposed to the friendly bacteria of mother’s birth canal. The initial exposure of microbes in the birth canal determines the diversity and quality of gut microbes. There is a relationship between the mode of delivery on the colonization of the infant intestine, development of the immune system, and subsequent childhood allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.

Childhood obesity does not happen in isolation. It is a cumulative effect of the interplay of factors related to our lifestyle and goes beyond the way babies are conceived. To know more about how to provide healthy food to your child read our article on How to raise sugar-free kids: Create a healthy ecosystem.